Ecstasy overdoses near Toronto nightclubs trigger calls for new health measures

Police say five overdoses early Saturday — including one that killed a 24-year-old woman — involved the party drug MDMA. It is not yet known whether the woman also ingested fentanyl or another substance.











Five overdoses near Toronto nightclubs early Saturday, including one that killed a 24-year-old woman, triggered a health warning and calls for clubs and authorities to take new steps to save lives.

Police say the overdoses all involved the party drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy. Tests should reveal if the woman also ingested fentanyl, a highly toxic anesthetic sometimes mixed into other drugs, or another substance.

The overdoses near Uniun Nightclub, near Adelaide and Portland Sts., and Rebel Nightclub at Polson Pier are part of an alarming trend, said Councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s drug strategy.

“With the arrival of fentanyl a broader swath of Torontonians are now at risk of a fatal overdose,” he said in an interview Saturday. “This crisis is at the stage where people doing recreational drugs like MDMA or a line (of cocaine) are at real risk of death.”

The 24-year-old woman died in hospital after collapsing and being found in cardiac arrest near Uniun around 12:30 a.m. Another woman who later collapsed nearby was hospitalized in serious condition.

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Two men and a woman were also hospitalized in serious condition after paramedics found them at about 1:30 a.m. a short distance from Rebel.

While some regard ecstasy as a relatively safe drug, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health warns of “a growing number of deaths,” often related to dehydration and overheating at crowded and lengthy dance parties.

Six overdoses were reported at one electronic dance music show at Rebel in December, a young woman who died.

Toronto widow, Jody McLennan, recently went public about the February death of her 25-year-old husband, Oghenovo Avwunufe, who had snorted a small amount of fentanyl-laced cocaine at home with friends.

Front-line city staff at agencies including the TTC are being trained on the use of the opioid antidote naloxone, said Cressy, who has helped groups of bar staff get training on naloxone kits that are free upon request at most pharmacies.

The city’s harm reduction plan calls for quick testing of drugs at three planned safe-injection sites so users can ensure they are not laced with something else.

And Toronto Public Health is working with a community project that aims to bring such testing into nightclubs, said Cressy, who is calling on the province to ensure cities have reliable real-time overdose data.

Another councillor, Paula Fletcher, is pushing for venues that host electronic dance music events to have mandatory safeguards including emergency services staff and an ambulance on site, as well as a special medical room for people suffering overdoses.

Ink Entertainment, which operates both Uniun and Rebel, said in a statement Saturday that the company is “shocked and saddened” by the woman’s death, and the clubs are co-operating with police.

Ink reminded patrons it will eject anyone caught with illegal substances. The company did not answer the Star’s inquiry about whether it uses naloxone kits or takes other steps to minimize risk to patrons who overdose in or near its clubs.

With files from Brennan Doherty and Vjosa Isai

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